Trapped in Apulia: Europe’s Deepening Refugee Crisis, Part 1

Published on Spiegel Online International, by Maximilian Popp, June 21, 2013 (Photo Gallery).

A young Liberian refugee arrives in Italy, where he is left to fend for himself and winds up homeless in a filthy slum. When he flees to Germany, the government there invokes EU asylum law and sends him back. It is a cycle of degradation faced by thousands of African refugees living in Europe today. 

The first time around, he ended up on the street in Hamburg, and the second time he was sent to prison. Now Sekou Kone lives in a hut made of trash and is trying to figure out how to make it to Germany a third time … //

… Uniform Asylum for the EU: … //

… A Life of War and Flight:

That was also the case with Sekou Kone. His voice breaks when he talks about his life, and he spends a long time searching for the right words. The basic information about his case is detailed in an identification card he received from the UN Refugee Agency. Kone was born in Liberia in 1983, the youngest of three siblings. When he was six, civil war erupted in his country, claiming 250,000 lives.

Kone’s father was a soldier, and both he and Kone’s mother were murdered by supporters of warlord Charles Taylor. He speaks haltingly as he tells his story. As a boy, he found shelter in a refugee camp in Guinea, where he went to school. But Guinea is poor and, according to Transparency International, one of the most corrupt countries in Africa. When he was older, he went to Libya to work as a laborer, slaving away on construction sites for three years. Then the unrest in the Arab world engulfed the country. With the help of NATO, the Libyans overthrew dictator Moammar Gadhafi. Some of the Libyan rebels suspected black immigrants of supporting Gadhafi. For the third time, Kone found himself fleeing a country.

In the early summer of 2011, he took a boat to Lampedusa, an Italian island in the Mediterranean. From there he was transferred to Sicily. A few months earlier, the uprising in Tunisia had prompted the Italian government to declare a “North African Emergency,” and it created housing with EU support. But according to reports by refugee organizations, the African refugees hardly benefited from the policy. Hotel owners and businesspeople lined their pockets instead.

Kone was housed in a hotel. He remembers that the refugees lived on the upper floors, while tourists stayed on the lower floors. He was given something to eat once a day but, as he says, the food was often spoiled. He was forced to leave the hotel after a year. He was given a document, a residence permit for “humanitarian” reasons, but Kone had no idea where to go. He slept in parks and under bridges in Palermo, until other refugees told him about the Ghetto in Apulia.
Kone shuffles through the labyrinth of huts. The stench of burning garbage hangs in the air. Young people are playing checkers on homemade boards, and a man is working on a scooter. Some of the refugees, who worked as mechanics and engineers in their native countries, occasionally repair cars that Italians bring to them.

Politicians in Foggia are familiar with conditions in the Ghetto. The authorities installed toilets for a time, but residents say that they removed them a few weeks ago. Now urine trickles along the paths again. Kone says that people in Africa used to say that Europe was a paradise – and yet, for him, Italy is a hell on earth. Last fall, he tried to get away for the first time.
(full text).

Part 2: To Germany and Back.


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